CES 2020: x86 PCs get new momentum
Deliveries of traditional PCs based on x86 processors have been declining for many years in a row. Only in the third quarter of 2019, Gartner recorded a weak, almost within the measurement error, increase in shipments year – on-year-by 1.1%. From July to September last year, 68 million personal systems were delivered in the world, while for the same period of 2018-67 million. Leading accounting not for shipments to the channel, but for retail sales, the analytical company Canalys for the same III quarter noted an even more encouraging rise in real demand for PCs — by 4.7% year – on-year.
But it is hardly necessary to consider this restrained positive as a harbinger of a new rise in the computer market. Makes itself felt the official end of free support for Windows 7, which makes the most leisurely owners of obsolete PCs acquire brand new computers running “tens”. In addition, the tense tariff standoff between the United States and China has prompted many American companies-suppliers of PCs of various sizes-to replenish their stocks starting from the second quarter in anticipation of a sudden increase in import duties on cars produced in China.
So by the end of 2019 (when they finally fail), the global market for x86-PC is very likely to show a sluggish decline again. That, of course, can not please the prevailing triumvirate of chipmakers, manufacturers of Central and/or graphics processors: AMD, Intel, Nvidia. The potential for increasing demand for classic x86 systems seems to have nowhere to go — especially against the background of the fact that the upcoming 5g network in the foreseeable future will be able (theoretically) to provide everyone with universal access to cloud services like Google Stadia or GeForce Now, allowing not only to work, but to play the most modern games without a noticeable delay from the simplest local terminal.
It would seem that in such a situation, it would make sense for chipmakers to refocus their efforts on the development of server CPUs and GPUs, assuming that local desktop and mobile computers will soon turn into thin, if not zero, clients for connecting to virtual work / gaming stations in the cloud, having any pre-set performance. But it is still a long way off — and the restrictions are not just technical.
“Virtual gaming PC as a service” costs about $ 10 today./month for a 4K HDR video stream with a frequency of up to 60 frames./s (which requires a channel of at least 35 Mbit/s), which is quite acceptable for the average user in the US and Western Europe. A video card that guarantees the same playback parameters, such as the GeForce RTX 2070 Super, alone retails for $ 500.,- but it also needs a system unit with a motherboard, a serious processor, a decent amount of RAM and a high-speed drive.
It turns out that a casual gamer who plays only from time to time and is not ready to buy a really powerful PC for this, cloud services are perfect. But such players in any case do not affect the sales of powerful modern x86-“iron” — and these sales have only been growing recently. According to IDC, in the second quarter of 2019, the total supply of gamers-oriented desktop PCs, laptops and monitors increased by 16.5% year – on-year. In fact, only two segments of the PC market-ultra-mobile high-performance laptops for business and gaming systems of all form factors-have shown any noticeable growth in the last few quarters against the background of the continuing decline in sales of personal x86 systems.
However, users who are consciously focused on hardware-demanding x86 applications are not ready to abandon local computers and entrust the processing of their tasks to the clouds, even if they are specialized in gaming services. And the triumvirate of x86 chipmakers, in turn, does not intend to lose a highly motivated paying audience of buyers of their most advanced microprocessors, which was once again confirmed by the new products presented at CES 2020 stands by AMD, Intel and Nvidia.
The main exhibit in the collection of AMD steel, of course, universal Ryzen processors of the 7th generation with increased performance and reduced power consumption. Debuted at the Las Vegas show model AMD Ryzen 7 4800U, for example, attracts attention with eight physical cores capable of performing calculations in 16 threads, 12 MB of L2/L3 cache memory and eight 1.8-GHz Radeon graphics cores. The power consumption of this world’s first 7-nm processor for mobile systems is only 15 W, which makes it almost ideal for ultra-light completely spindle-free (even equipped with an active cooling system with a fan) x86 tablets and laptops. Already in the first quarter of the coming year, a number of announcements are expected from leading PC manufacturers-Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc. – using the Ryzen 4000 family of chips.
The emphasis on the truly complete absence of mobile elements in the mobile PC is a worthy contribution of AMD to the modernization of the classic x86 paradigm. For its part, this task is suitable for Intel, which during CES 2020 especially aggressively promoted the Athena project — a new set of specifications for Windows laptops and even chromebooks, designed to further simplify and generally improve the process of user interaction with a mobile computer. Immediate transition from inactive mode to working mode, continuous updating of all user tasks (in the manner of a smartphone) on the go, long battery life, fast charging-these and many other requirements of Project Athena meet the announced Intel in Las Vegas processors of the Tiger Lake generation, characterized by increased performance in the processing of artificial intelligence tasks, as well as graphics. The company showed the concept of a new form factor “bent horseshoe” PC Horseshoe Bend just based on the Tiger Lake CPU-in the case of a 12-inch laptop, but with a folding OLED screen with a 17-inch diagonal in the expanded state.
Finally, Nvidia demonstrated a graphics processor designed not so much for gaming PCs, but for Autonomous (in the sense — do not need constant communication with the cloud for full operation) humanoid robots Toyota T-HR3. In addition, it was announced an update to the proprietary software platform Nvidia Drive for Autonomous vehicles, which is now based on a system on a chip (SoC) of its own development Orin, which contains 17 billion Rubles. transistors and operates with a performance of 200 TORS-seven times greater than the previous generation of this SoC called Xavier.
Returning to the topic of gaming, we should also mention the update of the g-SYNC specification, which now provides for synchronization of the image generated by the video card with 360 Hz monitors. It is clear that no cloud services will be able to provide such a frame rate in the foreseeable future. This means that hardcore gamers, which it will certainly be in demand, will continue to bet on heavy-duty local PCs. To the delight of all manufacturers of personal x86 systems, the history of which is still very, very far from complete.